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One Week With: 2016 Volvo V60 T5 AWD Cross Country Platinum

Hard to categorize. Easy to like.

Arthur St. Antoinewriter, photographer Sandon Voelkerphotographer

What is it? A car? An SUV? A sport-wagon? A dessert topping? Actually, the 2016 Volvo V60 Cross Country is all of the above—that is, if your post-work dessert is an entertaining mountain road.

Volvo's V60 CC is a neat amalgam of vehicle types. It's lower than a sport-ute and more fun to drive and easier to maneuver—like a smallish four-door sedan (it's about eight inches shorter than a Camry). But it's got the high profile and versatile rear liftgate of a wagon. At the same time, there's clearly some elevation in its stance (2.5 inches higher than the standard V60 wagon, for a maximum 7.9 inches of ground clearance), skid plates front and rear, plus permanent all-wheel drive—you wouldn't be far off calling it an SUV. Finally, it's bold enough on the outside—with muscular fenders, chiseled lines, and standard 18-inch wheels—to look nothing like a stoic family vehicle.

The moment I climbed aboard and headed off into traffic, I liked the V60's size. Frankly, driving a big vehicle in L.A. can be a pain, but the Cross Country is neat and trim, with generally excellent visibility (it's a tad tight to the rear quarter) and a top-notch driving position. As you'd expect in a Volvo, the nicely stitched two-tone sport leather seats (part of the $3,650 Platinum package) are superb, with large bolsters for your thighs and torso and a firmness that delivers comfort and support for the long haul (it's amazing how Volvo makes such deceptively simple-looking seats fit so well). The rear seats are almost as good, though tall adults will find rear-seat legroom lacking. A fat leather steering wheel tilts and telescopes into ideal position, while the center console is a clean, minimalist design that's easy to navigate and operate. In general, the cabin is handsome and user-friendly, with none of the fussiness that often works its way into cars that pack as many features as this Cross Country Platinum does.

Make no mistake: with the Platinum upgrade, the V60 CC moves straight up to first class. Just a few of the add-ons: premium Harman Kardon audio, active dual-Xenon headlights, keyless entry and start, a rear park-assist camera, collision and pedestrian/cyclist warning systems with full auto-braking capability, and adaptive cruise control. My test car also included the optional BLIS package ($925), which adds such safety features as blind-spot warnings, cross-traffic alerts, and front-park assist. A Climate Package with Booster Seats ($1,550) added heated front seats, windshield, and steering wheel, plus fold-down, twin outboard two-stage child-booster seats in the rear bench. Finally, metallic paint ($560), wood inlays ($400), and 19-inch BOR matte-black wheels ($940) brought the total sticker to $49,775. That undercuts the price of the similarly outfitted, slightly larger Audi Allroad Premium Plus by several grand.

Under the hood lies a turbo 2.5-liter five-cylinder good for 250 hp. It's not the smoothest engine in its class, but it moves the CC well enough (in concert with a six-speed automatic) and helps deliver up to 28 mpg on the highway. Max torque comes on tap at just 1,800 rpm, so you never have to tromp on the gas to get up and running. Push the chassis on wriggling road and it keeps up, understeering as you'd expect, but not overly so. The steering was heavier than I expected—which I actually liked—and offered pleasing feedback. True, the low-profile all-season tires aren't what you'd put on an "SUV," but most Cross Country buyers would likely prefer improved handling over off-road prowess anyway.

During my forays all over Los Angeles—from tight city streets to rare wide-open stretches of the 101 freeway—the CC felt utterly composed and confidence-inspiring. Part of that feeling owes to the stout structure and well-wrought chassis; you could find anvils that shimmy more than this rig. But mostly you're aware that the V60 is always looking out for you—literally. At speeds of 31 mph or less, standard City Safety will automatically brake the car to a stop if it determines a rear-end collision with a vehicle ahead is likely. Roll Stability Control will cut engine power and/or brake one or more wheels if its gyroscopic sensor detects too large of a lean angle. The all-wheel-drive system, if it detects a tire losing traction, will instantly reduce power to that wheel and transfer it to the wheels with more grip. You get the sense that if you tried to drive the V60 CC off a bridge, it would stop, shut down its engine, and activate its nav voice to say, "C'mon, friend. You really don't want to do this."

The rear cargo hold is plenty roomy (it easily swallowed all the provisions for a large weekend gathering), and the rear seats are split 40/20/40 for a variety of passenger and storage layouts. Fold the rear bench fully flat, and you've got almost 44 cubic feet of space on hand. Another cool feature is Volvo On-Call which, once you've installed the app, allows you to start the car, lock and unlock the doors, and check vehicle status right from your smartphone. Also available (it's free for the first six months of ownership) is Sensus Connect, which provides an on-board Internet connection and access to a host of apps (among them, Pandora, Yelp, and Wikilocations). The system can also be operated using your smartphone as a hotspot and drawing data over your existing cellular plan.

Though the V60 Cross Country isn't the sort of vehicle a journalist writes poetry about, I thoroughly enjoyed my week at its helm. The car made me feel good simply by appreciating the savviness of its design and engineering. There aren't any parts of the car where you ask, "why'd they do that?" Instead, the Cross Country is relentlessly sensible and competent—with the added flourishes of a sleek and attractive design and outstanding road manners.

So, okay, maybe not poetry. But for the V60 Cross Country, I'm hereby penning a warm letter of recommendation.

2016 Volvo V60 T5 AWD Cross Country Platinum Specifications

On Sale: Now
Price: $41,940/$49,775 (base/as-tested)
Engine: 2.5L turbocharged DOHC 20-valve I-5/250 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 266 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Layout: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD wagon
EPA Mileage: 20/28 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H:182.6 x 73.4 x 60.8 in 182.6 x 73.4 x 60.8 in
Wheelbase: 109.2 in
Weight: 3,900 lb
0-60 MPH: 7.0 sec (est)
Top Speed: 130 mph